A gun, baton and pepper spray won’t be the only things Santa Fe police officers will be packing from now on.
Face coverings also will be part of their toolkit after Mayor Alan Webber and the City Council late Wednesday approved a proposal requiring anyone over the age of 15 to wear a face covering in most public settings or while doing business. But there are exceptions, such as when it causes or aggravates a health condition.
“The passage of this ordinance emphasizes that locally we understand the importance of face coverings as one of the very few tools we have in stopping the spread of COVID-19,” City Councilor Carol Romero-Wirth, who sponsored the legislation, said after the vote.
“We are balancing the need to reopen our economy, heavily reliant on tourism, with the responsibility to protect public health while also looking out for the workers in our community,” she said.
The new law allows police to issue violators a written warning on the first offense and a $50 fine on the second and any subsequent offense.
The measure passed 7-2, with City Councilors Michael Garcia and JoAnne Vigil Coppler opposed.
“I think this has a lot of loopholes in it,” Vigil Coppler said. “I think it’s unenforceable, frankly.”
Vigil Coppler, who doesn’t serve on any of the council committees that had vetted and endorsed the proposal before it reached the full governing body, raised myriad questions, including whether the Santa Fe Police Department had the resources to enforce it.
“I did not ask them if they thought they could enforce it,” Romero-Wirth responded.
In an email Thursday, Chief Andrew Padilla said officers will enforce the new ordinance while educating violators.
“If we encounter someone or if we are dispatched to a report of someone without a face covering, a written warning will be issued and a face covering will also be given out,” he wrote.
Padilla initially wrote that violators would be given a verbal warning on a first offense but later corrected himself.
“For a second offense, the officer will be required to issue a citation summoning the violator to appear in court, or provide the option to pay the $50 penalty assessment,” the police department wrote in an “FAQ” about the new ordinance.
Under the new law, face coverings must be worn inside or while waiting to enter a public building; on public or private transportation; and while interacting with other people in outdoor spaces, such as during a curbside pickup at a restaurant.
It also requires face coverings when people are engaging in business activities in private spaces, such as during house showings.
Vigil Coppler, a real estate agent, questioned who was going to enforce violations at open houses.
“I’m not going to call the police. ‘Hey, my buyer just showed up without a mask.’ Are you kidding?” she said. “I want to sell that house. I’m not calling the cops because someone walks in without a mask.”
Face coverings would not be required in personal vehicles, during outside physical activity or while drinking or eating, among other situations.
The proposal initially established a $50 penalty for each violation, but it was amended to make the first violation a written warning. Councilors also introduced an amendment that would strike language making the violation a petty misdemeanor.
Before the council started to debate the proposal, it held a virtual public hearing in which 10 people spoke in opposition, saying it was not based on science and that it also infringed on people’s constitutional rights, among other concerns.
A couple of speakers said they would pursue legal action against the city if the ordinance were approved, which was one of Garcia’s concerns.